Anyone who lives in the Middle East gets to participate in history-in-the-making. Sometimes that is good, sometimes less good.
Forty years ago, however, I lived in the United States. I had been to Israel several times, and had traveled the circuitous route to Jerusalem, necessitated because the road through Sha'ar Hagai (Bab-El Wad) had been closed "forever" in 1948. The sides of the road were decorated with the remains of armored vehicles destroyed in 1948 by Arab marauders who blockaded Jerusalem. In West Jerusalem, I had gazed out through the barbed wire at the city where my grandmothers were born, now forbidden, and I tried to take pictures from the roof of Notre Dame. A soldier confiscated the film. It is hard to describe the bitter feeling that accompanied those experiences.
In May of 1967, we all followed the news anxiously. In UN debates, Arab delegates threatened Israel with the wrath of Allah. The Palestinian observer, Ahmed Shokhairy, announced that "if it will be our privilege to strike the first blow" all Jews who had arrived in "Palestine" after 1917 would be expelled. In the last days of May, I announced to my parents that there would be a war in Israel next week, and that I intended to be there. I arrived in Israel on the evening of June 2, as a volunteer at Kibbutz Gal-on. The road down to the kibbutz was thickly populated with soldiers, enjoying the leave that had been granted just before the war. People were quiet, there was none of the boasting, or the hysteria, that accompanied the Second Lebanon War this past summer. The tension could haave been cut with an axe, but not with the knife of the cliche.
On the morning of June 5, our motley crew of volunteers was filling sandbags and digging trenches in preparation for battles and air-raids that would never happen. We listened to the news, and heard the same terse announcement, repeated over and over, interrupted periodically by radio signals for air raid alerts. Over and over, Moshe Dayan was saying "we are a small but brave nation, and we shall overcome them." There was no real information.
It must have been about noon, as we were eating, that someone returned from a nearby army base and announced that Israel had destroyed the Egyptian air force. The feeling of relief was overwhelming. For most Israelis, the news remained a secret for several more days. The Six Day War
created a new reality, and all of us stumbled into it.
Many years later I drove down the new road to Jerusalem with my two sons. I tried to explain to them that this land was once in Jordan, that we had had to travel a long way around to Jerusalem, and that there had been a war in 1967. They weren't interested. It happened before they were born. It was history. BORING.
Today, people who are too young to remember, or find it inconvenient to remember, what it was like before the war, who cannot comprehend what it was to live with divided Jerusalem, or what was at stake forty years ago at this time, organize demonstrations against the "occupation," and crank out op-eds about the failure of the Six Day War and the legacy of the occupation.
If Israel had acquiesced in the closure of the Straits of Tiran, it would have been gradually eroded into non-existence by progressive bullying. If Israel had meekly returned all the territories gained in the war, there would never have been peace with Egypt or Jordan, Jordan would still be illegally occupying East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian problem would have been no closer to solution now then it was on June 4, 1967. As you read the op-eds, remember: If Israel had failed in the Six Day War, there would surely be no such vacuous op-eds, as there would be no Israel. Ami Isseroff
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